The most amazing thing to me on this trip has been the ability to visit places I haven't been able to go since 2006, and in some cases, since 2005. It stirs memories, good and bad, but the most striking things are the physical changes (and in some cases, lack thereof) in Baghdad as the war drags on through its fifth year.
I have never been able to figure out why no one has employed anyone in public works projects to tear down the buildings that were irrevocably damaged by the bombing in 2003. Or why the construction cranes that still sit idle above the half-finished Saddam mosque have never been reappropriated for more noble projects, despite the fact that virtually everything else that belonged to the past government has.
The most striking difference in the city is the concrete barriers. I became fully convinced of the death of irony the other day when I saw, sitting on an Iraqi Army commander's desk, a commemorative mini T-barrier (also known as jersey barrier) that read on it, "OIF 2008," given to him by the US military. Literally, a symbol of the ghettoization and separation of Baghdad. Unironically reproduced by our American military as a commemorative goo-gaw to hand out. All it lacked was some sort of smarmy slogan — "Separating Baghdad to save it," or something like that.
Five years into the war, there are thousands of children who have known nothing but. I saw a friend of mine today for the first time since 2006, last year it was too dangerous for him to meet me, even at my hotel. Today we embraced on the street in his neighborhood, sat down and spoke English. he doesn't thank the US militiary for that — he's been arrested three times, in fact. Iraqis stopped the civil war, not the "surge."
His four children will have known nothing of Baghdad before this war.
The AP has declared the US is now "winning" the war. Please keep in mind that whatever standoff between the Kurds and the rest of the country is in store, it has only just begun. AP's premature analysis makes no mention of that particular rift, and it should be of serious concern that the crowd of Kurdish protesters decided to hit back at the Turkomen for an attack for which they almost certainly they were not responsible.
I don't remember ever seeing the AP write a story that said the US was losing. And even after reading the AP article, I'm not sure what we're "winning." Is 4 million refugees, 1 million dead, and a fully ghettoized city a victory? AP also makes no mention of the fact that the Iraqi army has a really, really hard time fighting without US airpower.
Tomorrow there is an all day vehicle curfew.